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Will BICEP2 Lose Some of Its Muscle?

19 May 2014, 12:42 UTC
Will BICEP2 Lose Some of Its Muscle?
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A scientific controversy has been brewing concerning the results of BICEP2, the experiment that measured polarized microwaves coming from a patch of the sky, and whose measurement has been widely interpreted as a discovery of gravitational waves, probably from cosmic inflation. (Here’s my post about the discovery, here’s some background so you can understand it more easily. Here are some of my articles about the early universe.) On the day of the announcement, some elements of the media hailed it as a great discovery without reminding readers of something very important: it’s provisional!
From the very beginning of the BICEP2 story, I’ve been reminding you (here and here) that it is very common for claims of great scientific discoveries to disappear after further scrutiny, and that a declaration of victory by the scientific community comes much more slowly and deliberately than it often does in the press. Every scientist knows that while science, as a collective process viewed over time, very rarely makes mistakes, individual experiments and experimenters are often wrong. (To its credit, the New York Times article contained some cautionary statements in its prose, and also quoted scientists making cautionary statements. Other media outlets forgot.)
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